All Blacks left blowing as Irish breeze through the Windy City
Published 07/11/2016 | 02:30
There was definitely something in the air in the Windy City. If only I was able to read the signals, I would have made a killing on Paddy Power.
The whiff of success which descended on the city for Friday's homecoming parade of the World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, still lingered as their five million supporters made way for thousands of Irish and New Zealanders. "The largest single gathering of people ever in the history of mankind," reported one TV station. So it must be true.
In fact, by Saturday morning as the hordes of green and black-clad fans gathered for the pre-match warm-up, the Cubs had left precious little in the way of well-known brands of beer.
Sure it's impossible to feed and water the five million.
In the hours before kick-off, the steady stream of fans making their way south from the city to Soldier Field grew and grew. Watering holes close to the stadium were packed to overflowing, and long lines of people using every trick in the book to gain entry reminded us of an All-Ireland Sunday back home. Once inside, match tickets were traded between fans of both side, always at face value. This was not Rio after all.
Irish supporters, paralysed perhaps by the fear of a history of 111 years of heavy losses, glorious defeats, one draw and near misses like 2013 spoke only of the need for a positive performance that could be built on next Saturday against Canada.
That would set us up nicely to "have a go at them" back home in two weeks' time.
The lack of appropriate signage and stewards directing first time visitors to their designated entry points and seats in Soldier Field left many lamenting the helpful services of the GAA Maor at Croke Park - and also in a state of minor panic as they struggled to find their place in time for the haka.
What they witnessed as the Irish team stood in silence in the figure of eight as a mark of respect to the late Axel Foley should have acted as another sign that we were on the verge of a historic occasion. Within three minutes, Johnny Sexton had opened our account, we were up and running, the 'Fields of Athenry' was also running. Two minutes later, the All Blacks had opened their account with a try and the bubble had burst.
Clearly no one told the Irish players.
By half-time we had scored three tries to their one, and led by an unprecedented 17 points.
As Irish fans gathered in small groups, they spoke in whispers of the hope that we had not annoyed them too much. Ah sure, this is the land of the free and the brave and where a man once said "others dream and say why not".
It was also the land where grown men and women closer to the days of their free travel pass than their Leaving Certificate were asked to produce photo ID before buying a watery beer. At least they had beer.
Fans also spoke of the second-half comeback last time, which would surely come again this time.
Nevertheless, it was Simon Zebo who drew first blood with an early second-half try - and with it Irish fans reverted to the lyrically challenging "Olé Olé Olé".
Three second-half tries by the world champions softened our cough and closed the gap to four points.
Memories of the Aviva in 2013 came flooding back.
We sat frozen in the stands, like school children at a horror film, daring only to peer through our fingers at what was unfolding in front of us.
The 10 minutes of pure torture that followed seemed like an eternity, until Jamie Heaslip, in a planned move, linked with Robbie Henshaw to score our fifth try and widen the gap to nine points.
Joey Carbery added the extra two points - and as they say, the rest is history.
With only four minutes on the clock, even the two-time, back-to-back world champions were buried - and in a manner which sent shock waves around the world.
TV stations across the USA even spoke of the shock.
But with a winning margin of 11 points and crossing the tryline five times, this cannot be viewed as a shock or a lucky win.
It was a planned and sustained effort by a team that believed they were equal to this all-conquering side from the southern hemisphere, considered among the best rugby teams we had ever seen.
As fans made their way back to the city, the lines outside pubs were twice as long as before.
Those who managed to gain entry had to make do with cans of beer, and spoke of being in Soldier Field in the same way as others speak of being in Thomond Park in 1978 or in the GPO in 1916.